Music for mental health on my mind as Erland Cooper heads to Edinburgh
It’s been Mental Health Awareness Week this week and I’ve been trying to think of an interesting way to write about it.
Then two of my favourite artists - Erland Cooper and Kojey Radical - came along with new releases that reminded me how much music and musicians can be good for mental health.
More on them in a minute.
If you’re a regular reader or follower, you’ll know that I’m big believer that music - and especially live music - can have a profoundly positive impact on wellbeing and mental health. I also believe that musicians and the music industry are in such a powerful position to use their influence to raise awareness of mental health among young people.
In my own experience with depression, music always alters my mood. It can lift me up, it can chill me out. Music therapy has shown this impact for years and in recent years an increasing body of evidence has built up too.
For example, a 2015 study in The World Journal of Psychiatry titled Effects of music and music therapy on mood in neurological patients reported the following: “From the neurochemistry point of view we know that music can activate limbic and paralimbic structures, such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, the nucleus accumbens, etc. that function abnormally in patients with a high depressive component.
“At the psychological level music can engage several social functions, can increase communication and social cohesion and can promote empathetic relationships.”
That last bit around the social aspect of music is important for me. That feeling of going to a gig and enjoying live music with like-minded people can be so powerful.
Which brings me back to Erland Cooper and Kojey Radical.
One of the reasons I started Edinburgh Music Lovers (EML) was to use my love of music and my own experiences to contribute to awareness of mental health and highlight how music can be a force for good.
To do this, I set out to find artists whose music I loved and who were also outspoken about mental health.
Enter Kojey Radical. I was hooked the first time I heard him. The voice, the lyrics, the delivery, the music, the videos, the look - truly a completely unique artist.
But there was more. Here was an artist talking openly about mental health, in his lyrics and interviews. On ‘If Only’, the first track I heard, he refers to his struggles with depression - “If only you knew / Exactly what a brother been through”.
Speaking about the track at the time Kojey said: “Despite how easy it is to keep up appearances, I struggled with depression heavily last year. I came out the other side more hungry and more passionate because the ability to create and express myself literally saved my life.
“This year I want to make the most empowering music about my sadness. I want people to not be afraid to feel. I want people to use my music as a safe place and feel energised. Some times being able to speak up can make all the difference."
When he played in Edinburgh last year, it was a topic he addressed while on stage, referring to the impact the death of a close friend had on him.
He’s still speaking up about depression now. His new single ‘Can’t Go Back’, which dropped on Thursday, addresses depression again. “Deep in depression I was dead too / I can’t go back to / Feeling like I wanna die / Feeling like I’ll never fly”.
It’s so good to see artists like Kojey Radical using their voice in this way. And in Kojey’s case turning that pain into incredible energy and positivity, as anyone whose seen him perform live will testify.
Then there’s Erland Cooper.
Although he’s at entirely the opposite end of the music spectrum from Kojey, Erland is also using music to make life better.
I stopped my car the first time I heard Erland’s music. It was the beautiful ‘Maalie’ from his debut solo album, ‘Solan Goose’. I was driving through an industrial estate but the soaring strings and gentle piano made me pull over. It’s less than 3 minutes long but it had a huge impact on me.
From that moment, I wanted to book him for Edinburgh. About a year later, he’s doing just that next Friday (24th May) at a show I’m co-promoting with The Queen’s Hall.
I didn’t know it then, but it turns out Erland, previously known for his more rocky/folky/indie work, had made the almost ambient ‘Solan Goose’ in part as a means of coping with the stresses of living in London. In an interview for Huck Magazine, he said: “I’d find the intensity of that environment combined with personal stresses quite hard”.
Originally from Orkney, his new stripped-back combination of classical and electronic music was created as a way of transporting himself back to the peace and wildness of his island homeland.
Music was Erland’s escape, his way of feeling better. Music for his mental health.
His music definitely makes me feel better. It’s so simple yet so powerful, it just washes away stress and takes my mind off into an almost meditative state.
The comments on social media after his recent sold-out show in London at The Barbican’s Milton Hall suggest lots of people feel the same.
"I cried. Erland Cooper's music is so beautiful I couldn't not. Wonderful group of musicians. Special gig.”
"ASTONISHING PERFORMANCE! .. Never had so many repeated goosebumps!!"
"Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Beautiful and emotional!"
"Oof. Erland Cooper is a magician and a genius. That carefully crafted show was so enthralling, he takes you to a place you don’t want to leave"
I’m massively excited and proud to be involved in bringing Erland to Edinburgh next week. I hope you can come along and see how beautiful his music is as he launches his second solo album, ‘Sule Skerry’ - another thing of absolute beauty.
When it comes to music and mental health, artists like Erland Cooper - and Kojey Radical - show how music can be such a force for good.